San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Columnist Chats with Readers

Popular TT columnist Kate Galante was the guest of a recent online live chat at, making the trek down to San José from her home in the mountain community of La Estrella de Guarco, east of San José, for the occasion.
Drawing on the subject matter of her “So to Speak” column, she answered readers’ questions on the Spanish language, Costa Rican culture and English education. Excerpts:
Q: Hola, Kate. Everyone calls everyone “mae” here. First of all, how is it spelled? Second, what does it mean?
A: First of all, practically nobody spells it. It’s what is called “pachuco,” that is, street slang. Everyone says “mae,” but it comes from the word “maje,” which is a person who doesn’t know anything, who just doesn’t get it.
Q:Where did “Spanglish” start?
A: You are a Spanish speaker in the United States. You hear certain words all the time in English, so you start to stick them in. Or, you are an English speaker in Costa Rica. It is easier to use the general word “bodega” instead of one of the innumerable words for a storage space in English, so you stick it in. And so it goes.
Q:What are some of the most noticeable cultural differences you’ve seen between Ticos and Gringos?
A: In a nutshell, we are very direct, and they aren’t. (Ticos) will tend to beat around the bush about anything touchy, including their intimate relations with each other. In any social situation, they want to “quedar bien,” that is, come off well. As a result, they will often tell little lies to avoid coming off stupid or offensive. A common experience of the tourist on the street is to ask directions of a Tico, and get the wrong ones. This is because he/she didn’t want to come off as ignorant, wanted to please you at that moment. They often find our directness offensive. It still happens to me after 17 years here.
Q: Will all languages disappear like other indigenous languages? Do you think that the only remaining language would be English?
A: I hope not! Right now the United States is king and English looks to be the universal language. At one time it was Rome and Latin, and look what happened to all that.
Q: Have you ever published your columns in a book or folder form? I am sure I have missed some and would be interested in seeing them all for reference, when needed.
A: Actually, I have approached the editors several times about publishing a book. So far, nothing has happened. Why don’t you write to them and make the suggestion?

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